Recent research suggests that some patients develop a potentially deadly blood infection from their implanted cardiac devices because bacterial cells in patients’ bodies have gene mutations that allow bacterial cells to stick to the devices. Patients with implants can develop infections because of a biofilm of persistent bacteria on the surfaces of their devices. A biofilm is a community of bacterial cells that lives on the surface of a solid substrate. Biofilms are the most common mode of life for all bacteria, whether they reside in the environment or in the human body. Read more in this news release.
Credit: Steven Lower et al., PNAS
There are several advantages to having natural microbes break down contaminants in soil and groundwater. It's cost effective and, more importantly, the process involves using native microorganisms that already are present under the earth's surface. Duke University assistant professor Claudia Gunsch is working on providing new genes to existing microbes already under the surface to activate them so they can begin destroying environmental toxins. Find out more in this discovery.
Credit: Kaoru Ikuma, Duke University
The Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) has been established as a result of strategic planning and reorganization of NSF's Engineering Directorate (ENG). EFRI serves a critical role in helping ENG focus on important emerging areas in a timely manner. Each year, EFRI will recommend, prioritize and fund interdisciplinary initiatives at the emerging frontier of engineering research and education.
Using super-resolution microscopy and continuous fluorescent imaging, Veysel Berk, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, has for the first time revealed the structure of bacterial biofilms, which are responsible for the tenacious nature of bacterial diseases such as cholera, chronic sinusitis and lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients.
March 10, 2014
Researchers tackle dangerous, but poorly understood biofilms
One goal is to control biofilm persister cells, which can hide out from antibiotics
Until now, biofilms—colonies of microbes like bacteria that grow together in a matrix produced by the cells themselves--have been poorly understood. Yet, they can be costly and dangerous. Infections related to hip- and knee-replacement surgery are often related to biofilms. And, biofilms are highly tolerant to antibiotics. Persister cells actually go dormant during treatment and, when the treatment stops, they return and repopulate. Biofilms in oil and water pipelines can rot the metal from inside, destroying infrastructure and potentially introducing contaminants into the water supply.
Coming up with effective ways to control biofilms starts with understanding the complicated communications among biofilm cells, as well as interactions between bacteria and host cells.
With support from the Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation within the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF), one research team working to advance understanding of biofilms is led by Dacheng Ren and colleagues at Syracuse University: Rebecca Bader, Yan-Yeung Luk, Radhakrishna Sureshkumar and Roy Welch.
The team creates synthetic biofilms to better understand their formation and behavior. And, they use supercomputer models to study the molecular structure of biofilms.
"Using molecular dynamics simulations, my coworkers and I in the Sureshkumar research group probe the interaction between the host cell, signaling factors, and the bacterial biofilm matrix based on computer models of the primary host cell and biofilm matrix constituents," explains Stephen DeSalvo, an undergraduate student who works on the modeling. "Using these simulations, lipid bilayer deformation, translocation free energies, and polymer matrix characterization can be analyzed. The real power of these modeling techniques comes with using the physical interactions between system components described via simulations to provide valuable insight into phenomena observed in the biofilm laboratory. Ultimately, both qualitative and quantitative simulation results may aid biofilm and persister cell therapeutic research, as well as future drug delivery breakthroughs."
The researchers are working on a broad range of approaches to disrupting biofilms--from interrupting the cell communications to manipulating the persister cells to make them more vulnerable to antibiotics. In this multidisciplinary environment, the ideas are infectious!
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1137186,
Deciphering and Controlling the Signaling Processes in Bacterial Multicellular Systems and Bacteria-Host Interactions.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.